I’m very happy to offer the eighth instalment of Demon Interrupted, a new story from the Elemental Coven that will be unfolding in its entirety right here on A Hopeful Romantic over the next few months with the final episode on October 31 along with a special celebration and lots more Lakeland Witches fun.
The Lakeland Witches Trilogy left so many stories untold and so many fun places in the lives of the Elemental Coven yet to be explored, that a serial seemed like the ideal way to share more of the coven’s adventure. With a coven that specialises in sex magic, it’s not only exciting to revisit my witches at Elemental Cottage, but it’s sizzling hot.
And this week, I’m very proud to share the new cover for the serial designed by the incredibly talented Kev Mitnik Blisse to go with the new covers of the Lakeland Witches Trilogy. Thanks Kev! You’re the best!
Here are the links to the previous episodes in case you missed them:
Chapter 6 Beneath the Weight of Shadow
Chapter 7 Possessions
Enjoy Chapter Eight, and thanks for joining the fun with this Work in Progress. If you want to know more about the Elemental Coven’s sexy adventures, check out the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy: Body Temperature and Rising, Riding the Ether and Elemental Fire. Enjoy!
Necessities and Inconveniences
There was a loud crash in the kitchen followed by a distressed cry from Fiori. Tara belted her robe around her waist as she ran down the stairs, Kennet, close on her heels, was still wrapped in the towel from the shower. By the time she reached the last step, the tight stirring in her chest that rearranged itself, shifting and settling low in her belly told her that Lucia, her resident demon was back from her wanderings. ‘’Bout fucking time,’ she said under her breath, but all she got in response was a good dose of smug.
‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry.’ She heard Ferris’s voice from the kitchen along with a tense yelp from Elaine. But as she rounded the corner, it wasn’t Ferris she saw standing over Fiori, who had clearly lost her balance and stumbled against one of the kitchen stools. She would have tipped it over and gone off backward if the man crowding in hadn’t caught her. But though the voice was Ferris’ the body clearly was not, or at least not the Ferris the coven was used to. The dark man who had Fiori around the waist easing her onto her feet made the kitchen seem small. His broad shoulders practically blotted out the sun streaming in through the window behind him.
‘I’m all right! I’m all right.’ Fiori’s voice was breathless as she stepped out of the man’s reach, shoving a cascade of wild red hair away from her face. ‘I just … I just wasn’t expecting … you … Ferris?’
‘What the fuck?’ Tim, just back from farm chores, slid through the kitchen door in his stocking feet, looking Ferris up and down. Tim was a big man. All the men in the Elemental Coven were over six feet and well muscled, but the man standing before Fiori had another six inches at least, and his shoulders and biceps strained at a faded grey shirt that looked as though it might have been hand-spun from a different era. His clothing was all out of time, and yet it was not all from the same time. The trousers he wore looked as though they could have come from the American West. His feet were long and bare on the tiles. His hair hung dark and thick almost to his shoulders and his eyes were a shade of blue-green that Tara had only ever seen in glacier melt. The man was strikingly beautiful, and yet somehow just looking at him gave Tara goose-bumps. The way Fiori chafed her arms told her that she wasn’t the only one feeling his presence that way.
‘I didn’t mean to startle anyone,’ the man said with Ferris’ easy voice.
‘But you are Ferris?’ Kennet asked.
‘I am. Yes. It’s just that Elaine isn’t comfortable with the flesh I now wear, and I find I can do more in this form than I’d, at first, thought myself capable of.’
‘And the flesh you normally wear? Where is it?’ Tara felt a tightening in her stomach.
‘It’s unharmed. On the bed in my room.’
With a shudder that was nearly a convulsion, Tara grabbed onto the counter top and braced herself as Lucia shoved her way lazily from the nebulous place inside Tara’s body where she took up residence. Everyone else stepped back as the demon pulled herself free. The coven had adjusted to Lucia’s comings and goings much better than Tara had. She still found it disconcerting when the demon decided to make a public appearance in such a physically demanding way. Sometimes when Lucia visited unannounced, Tara felt as though her breastbone were splitting. It always seemed worst when Lucia was miffed at her. Sadly, she could not return the favour when she was miffed at Lucia.
‘How long have you been absent from your flesh,’ the demon asked without a greeting to the coven members present, though she did give Cassandra a slight nod of her head as she entered the kitchen with Anderson, but then Cassandra was her daughter. Tara still couldn’t get her head around that fact. Mostly the demon focused her fiery gaze on Ferris.
‘Last night when Elaine and I made love. It distresses her to be reminded of her dead husband, so I shed his flesh.’
Tara didn’t miss the blush that crawled up over the bruises on Elaine’s throat at the mention of making love with Ferris, and though the ghost grabbed possessively onto Ferris’s arm, it was clear she was nowhere near as comfortable with sex as everyone at Elemental Cottage was. ‘You want to tell us what’s going on,’ Tara addressed Lucia, but the demon ignored her and spoke again to Ferris.
‘You must return to your flesh then. It has been too long, and the flesh will perish without your presence.’
The sound that came from Elaine’s throat was that of a frightened kitten, but she held tight to Ferris’ arm.
‘How do you know this?’ Both Ferris and Tara asked at the same time.
‘I know because I led you to that flesh, Ferris, and I know because I know how one such as you exists and functions in the fleshly world of humans. This you would know too if you would but take back your memories.’
‘I … I can’t.’ Ferris said, stepping away from Elaine and glancing toward the door as though he wished to run.
‘I know that you wish to continue on as things have always been, dear Ferris,’ Lucia said, ‘but really, you must welcome back the rest of who you are or you will find the problems you cause for yourself and the rest of the coven do not bare thinking about.’
‘No,’ Ferris’ voice was strangely quiet for someone so large. ‘I don’t mean that I won’t, Lucia. I would never do anything to cause harm to Cassandra or to this coven, you know that. I consider these my family now. I mean that I seem to be no longer capable of taking back whoever it is that I was … whatever it is that I was before you sent me to watch over Cassandra.’
‘That’s not possible,’ the demon said, and the robe she wore suddenly danced like living flame. ‘I have given back what is yours, Ferris. You have only to take it.’
‘Though it’s true I don’t wish to take back what I’ve left in your keeping, I would never deny it if it were to cause harm to those I care about. I’m not lying to you when I say that I can’t. I don’t know why. But I can’t.’
‘Hold it, hold it.’ Tara stepped forward between Ferris and Lucia and felt the blistering heat of the demon, even though she knew it wasn’t real. ‘Just what exactly is Ferris that this is his true form and what’s upstairs belongs to someone who should have died, I’m assuming, a good long time ago when his wife killed him.’ She nodded to Elaine, who shifted from foot to foot, keeping her eyes to the floor.
Lucia still stood gazing toward Ferris as though she could see him even through Tara’s body. ‘It’s not for me to tell, Tara Stone. The pact that I have made with him was to keep his secrets even from himself until such time as I released him from my bond, and there are certain … safeguards within that pact that protect one demon’s secrets from the indiscretions of another.’
‘Pact between demons? What do you mean between demons, Lucia,’ Tim broke in. ‘Ferris is no demon. Is he?’ The room erupted in chaos with everyone speaking at once. In a sudden burst of light, Ferris disappeared, and a terrified Elaine would have disappeared too if Skye hadn’t taken her gently by the arm.
‘Where did he go? Dear goddess, where did he go?’ Elaine glanced around wildly and strained against Skye’s embrace. ‘What have you done to him? I don’t care if he is a demon. He would never hurt me. He would never hurt any of you.’
In a loud crack of thunder and another flash of light, the room became silent other than the fire-crackle flow and dance of Lucia’s robes. The demon had a flair for the dramatic, Tara thought sourly. When she was sure she had everyone’s attention, Lucia spoke quietly. ‘Ferris has only returned to the flesh that houses him. He has been away from it for too long. I am terribly sorry, Elaine, but he cannot remain in corporeal form without an anchor in the flesh, and at the moment it is much easier for him to continue on in your husband’s flesh that to find another host.’
Tim made a sound like an angry bear and Lucia shot him a withering gaze. ‘I would not be so arrogant if I were you, Tim Meriwether. The fragility of your flesh is stunning. Even in those of you who enflesh ghosts and are so long-lived, your lifespan is but a heartbeat to one such as myself, to one such as Ferris. And even with such a lifespan, your flesh is delicate, easily broken, easily destroyed.’
‘Then I am a demon.’ Everyone turned to find Ferris standing once again in the unassuming body they had all grown used to seeing him in and, in spite of the flesh he now wore, Elaine moved to stand by him and took his hand.
Lucia studied him for a moment before she spoke. ‘Not a demon as such. Not in the way I am or Deacon was.’
‘Well is he or isn’t he?’ Tim asked.
‘The pact that I’ve made with Ferris will allow me to say no more,’ Lucia replied, not taking offence at Tim’s usual short temper. It is for Ferris to share his secrets, now that they are in his possession. Even if I wanted to, I now could not.’
‘I wasn’t lying when I said I can’t remember,’ Ferris said.
‘Then you are a danger to yourself and to the coven –’ Lucia replied without emotion ‘—I am not only unable to share your secrets with them, but I cannot give you again what I’ve already given. The magic of the bond and your service to me makes such a thing impossible.’
Before Cassandra could respond, Lucia spoke again. ‘Do you not have people working for you at Storm Croft? And is there not a village near-by with several thousand souls in it? You cannot guarantee their safety from what will most certainly happen if you do not recover yourself, Ferris.’
‘He’s not going anywhere.’ Tara stepped forward and laid a hand on his arm, and Cassandra did the same. ‘He’s coven family. He stays here and you tell us what we can do to help him regain his memories and return to himself.’
Lucia’s robes flared until the flame of them nearly filled the room, then settled back around her benignly. ‘I cannot tell you what to do, Tara Stone, because I don’t know. If that is the journey you insist upon, and if you insist upon keeping him here, then I will do what I can to help, but the way back to himself is now a way he must find on his own.’ She raised a hand before Cassandra could speak. ‘Perhaps there are certain spells we can cast, magic we can use to aid him, but in the end, it will be up to Ferris to restore himself. And that is what he must do.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Tim said. ‘You released him from your bond, what if you renewed that bond? What if you made the same arrangement with Ferris that you had before?’
‘I cannot, Tim Meriwether. The bond that is broken is broken, and it was only ever made in the first place because there was a need for it and both parties agreed to it.’
‘Both demons,’ Ferris said.
‘That was how the pact was made, yes.’ Lucia said.
‘If I am able to remember who I was, what I was, will I be as I was before?’
Lucia moved to stand close to Ferris and laid a hand on his cheek. ‘You fear that, don’t you, Ferris? You fear what you cannot remember, but what you conjure to be so in your imagination. Oh how you borrow trouble.’
‘It can’t have been good,’ he whispered, ‘or you wouldn’t have seen fit to take it from me.’
‘If you survive what is to come and manage to do so without killing someone, then your past will be yours to bear, as is the case for all of us. However you will not be as you were before because who you have been since I brought Cassandra to you, who you have been since you have come the this coven has shaped you.’ She shrugged, her robe swayed and crackled slightly and she stepped back. ‘Whether all of these years have done more than added a simple patina to you long existence, I cannot tell. Only you can.’
‘I won’t hear any more of this,’ Cassandra said. ‘Ferris stays with us.’ Then she shot Tara an apologetic glance. ‘Or I go with him, wherever he goes. For a long time he was the only family I had.’
Anderson slid an arm around her and Tara nodded. ‘No one is going anywhere, Cassandra. We’ll do what we need to for Ferris. Lucia –’ she turned her attention to the demon ‘—What can we expect?’
‘There will be more irrational behaviour. Ferris will have less and less memory of that irrational behaviour when it happens.’
‘Will I be –’
‘Will you be violent?’ Lucia finished for him. ‘Not in the usual sense of violence.’
‘What the hell does that mean,’ Tim said.
‘There will be delusions,’ Lucia held Ferris’s gaze. ‘Hallucinations, and they will increase the longer Ferris is not himself.’
‘And?’ Ferris asked. The man looked as calm and unassuming as he always did.
Lucia took a deep breath, which she did not need and bit her lip, her eyes still locked on his. ‘And if you’re still unable to return to yourself, those hallucinations, those delusions will spread.’
‘What do you mean spread?’ Tara said.
Lucia turned to face her, then moved so close to her that the two were practically nose to nose, and the hem of her gown looked as though it engulfed Tara in flame from her hips down. ‘I mean that if Ferris does not return to himself soon, his hallucinations will effect all of you. Everyone in the coven will see what he sees, will experience what he experiences, and it will be as real to them as it is to him.’
‘Fuck!’ Tim whispered.
‘Some will be more effected than others,’ Lucia continued. ‘And not everyone will be effected all the time. I can give you no rhyme nor reason to who or how, nor can I tell you a timetable, only that it will be soon. Ferris has been too long outside the bond. His ability to separate from his host is proof of that.’
The room was deadly silent. Outside on the buddleia a black bird trilled. The clock in the parlour struck seven.
‘Then I have to go,’ Ferris said, his voice sounding no different than it always did. ‘I have to go somewhere isolated where I can harm no one. Or surely there must be someplace magical? What about the Ether?’ he asked.
‘That is a possibility my dear man,’ Anderson said. ‘But I would prefer it only as a last resort.’ He looked at Lucia, who nodded confirmation.
‘I cannot say what can be done, nor can I say how the coven may help,’ Lucia said. ‘I can only say that I offer any help I can give, and that Ferris must be willing to open himself.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Tara said again. ‘He’s one of our own, and we’ll not abandon him. We’ll find a way.’ During the conversation, Tara observed that Elaine had moved close and closer to Ferris until she held him around the waist in a tight embrace, her head resting on his shoulder. ‘Lucia, you’ll tell us all you can?’
‘Yes of course,’ the demon said.
‘And you’re immune to the hallucinations,’ Kennet asked.
Kennet hitched his towel around his waist and nodded. ‘That’s good to know in case things get rough.’
‘I can’t let you do this?’ Ferris said to Tara. Elaine whimpered at his side and tightened her embrace.
‘You have no choice,’ Tara replied. ‘You’re one of our own.’ There was a general murmur of consensus.
‘Besides, you heard Lucia; there’s no place you can go on this plane that’s isolated enough for safety. I mentioned dream magic last night, and I think that would be a good place to begin.’ Lucia nodded her agreement, then without warning, stepped back inside Tara’s body, this time causing no more than a shiver up her spine.
‘We’re not doing anything on an empty stomach –’ Fiori said, picking up the spatula from the counter and straightening her shoulders. ‘The eggs have just been delivered from Jenkins farm. I was just about to make omelettes. Coffee’s brewed and the kettle’s on. Help yourself to fresh strawberries.